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One Man’s Long and Rewarding Journey to a Career in Nursing

Michael Brandon Ward BSN, RN

Vice President, American Association for Men in Nursing

All I ever wanted to do growing up was to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and become a doctor. After graduating high school in 1995, I allowed my mother to convince me to move to Louisiana and live with her until I began college.

Back then I knew little of out-of-state tuition costs. Did you know college tuition fees can be up to five times more expensive for an out-of-state resident? It was because of this exorbitant expense that I began seeking other options until I could attain a permanent residency status in Louisiana.

While waiting for my Louisiana residency, I had many jobs. I held a position at a boat repair and restoration company, I played and sang music in a local Mexican restaurant cantina, and even worked as a night clerk at a convenience store, all positions that would give me no leverage at all when it came to submit a portfolio to a medical school admissions department. Again, I had no guidance.

Life happens

Soren Kierkegaard said, “Boredom is the root of all evil – the despairing refusal of being oneself.” Needless to say, during that time, I was bored. Give a young man hormones and an opportunity for mischief and he’s sure to find it. At 20 years old, I did. I became a boy with a son.

No one ever told me, “You have a son! You’ll have no trouble getting financial aid to attend college!” Instead, I was told, “Well, son, you can kiss medical school goodbye. You need to get a job – a real job.” So I did. I got a job working on an offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Working in the oilfield is hard work, dangerous work. However, I enjoyed it… kind of. I worked “14 and 14,” which meant I worked 14 12-16 hour days in a row and was off 14 days in a row. I learned a lot – a lot about myself and a lot about life. Most of all, I learned to love people no matter what their socioeconomic background was.

A new leaf

After a downward turn in the economy, the layoffs began. At 24 years old, I had filed bankruptcy. Chapter 13 bankruptcy means complete liquidation of all remaining assets, while allowing you to keep a few remaining exempt properties. I kept my car and my home. I thought it a great opportunity to return to the idea of attending college. However, despite being jobless, the financial aid department determined I was ineligible based on my previous year’s income. In retrospect, I now feel I was ill-advised. It was imperative I find a job quickly.

“It’s not about what you know, it’s who you know.” Fortunately for me, I knew someone who knew someone. In this case, it was the director of human resources at a paper manufacturing plant called Willamette Industries. I was hired after two interviews and was as far away from medical school as I had ever been.

Back to school

After three years of paper manufacturing, I had become determined as ever to figure out how I was going to get into school. After some time I relinquished my position and accepted a job that allowed me to have a far better tax advantage and would eventually lead to my admission into Stephen F. Austin State University.

I had mulled over the idea of pursuing a baccalaureate degree in Biology, Chemistry, or Physics. However, I resigned myself to pursuing a degree in Nursing. Although the majority of nurses are women (89.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), I never considered the profession of nursing exclusive only to women. My thought was if I was not accepted into medical school upon graduation, what would I do? Teach? Instead, I decided that obtaining a nursing degree would give me a prodigious amount of hospital and patient care experience while bolstering my portfolio as well. I got a lot of grief for it from my peers… at first.

Opportunities in nursing

Once I began my clinical experience, nursing really got interesting. I had taken a part-time job working in the emergency room of a local hospital as an emergency room tech. I befriended a few male doctors, who just so happened to be my age. I would later learn that being a doctor had become different than it was back when my grandfather was practicing. It caused me to think deeper about my pursuit of becoming a physician. After graduating with my BSN in 2008, I found nursing to be the career I had longed for.

I have now been a nurse for over 11 years and have recently graduated with my Master’s Degree as an adult gerontological acute care nurse practitioner. Since becoming a nurse, life has just continued to get better and better. I have had the opportunity to meet many great people around the world, I have a very successful nursing blog, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to large crowds about issues I’m passionate about, and now I even serve as the vice president of a national nursing organization, the American Association for Men in Nursing.

The nursing profession is not slowing down. It’s poised to grow at least 16 percent in the US between now and 2024, and there is an abundance of untapped potential found in the male demographic. I know so many men out there struggling to survive or struggling to make it in their professional life. I believe nursing could be that answer for so many. I encourage every man looking for a change or just an opportunity to give it at least a once-over. Nursing might just save your life like it did mine.

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